Six-term Sen. Thad Cochran defeated challenger Chris McDaniel in Mississippi’s Republican primary runoff Tuesday, dealing another blow to tea party groups trying to unseat longtime GOP lawmakers.
Returns showed Cochran with a lead of about 3,800 votes, holding 50.5 percent of the vote to McDaniel’s 49.5 percent with 98 percent of precincts reporting.
The race attracted $12 million in spending by outside groups. Cochran made the argument to voters that he was a solid conservative who would continue routing federal money back to Mississippi, just as he’s done for decades. McDaniel held up Cochran as the face of an out-of-touch Congress responsible for a $17 trillion national debt.
McDaniel finished 1,418 votes ahead of Cochran in the three-person Republican primary on June 3, but nobody received a majority to win.
On the eve of the election, McDaniel rallied supporters in Flowood, near Jackson, by railing against the establishment.
“Right now, somewhere in Washington, I’m starting to sense some trembling,” he said. “And by tomorrow evening, every one of those men and women will know that we’re tired of the backroom deals; we’re tired of the business as usual; we’re tired of the favoritism; we’re tired of the cronyism. We’ll remind them once and for all that this is our country and they work for us.”
Cochran, 76, employed a more low-key campaign style, typically making short speeches that focus on his record of bringing billions of dollars to Mississippi for disaster relief, military bases, agriculture and research. He said he tried to work with all members of the state’s congressional delegation — one other Republican senator, and one Democrat and three Republicans in the House.
“On the fundamental issues that confront our country, I think our delegation sticks together more than most, and we try to make sure that Mississippi’s voice, when it is heard in Washington, is effective for our state and produces the results that you have a right to expect,” Cochran, a former Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, said at a campaign event in Gulfport.
Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes, who backed Cochran, said the runoff was a referendum on what the longtime senator has done for the state.
With each state having two senators, Hewes said, “Like it or not, seniority counts.”